Establishing Power of Attorney for Your Adult Child

Durable power of attorney documents

Young adults often continue to depend on their parents even after they turn 18 or go to college. If you are a parent trying to help your teenager transition to adulthood, establishing power of attorney for your adult child may help to smooth the way with banks, doctors, landlords, and school officials.

Do You Need a Power of Attorney for Children?

Parents have the legal authority, and obligation, to make decisions about their child’s health, education, and welfare. In the family law world, this is called legal custody. This happens automatically, as a product of being a legal parent. Even in cases where one parent has sole legal custody, both parents retain the right to receive information from their children’s doctors, teachers, and to a point, counselors and therapists.

There is no need for parents to have a power of attorney for their own children. However, some families will create powers of attorney for godparents, grandparents, or step-parents who provide child care, to make certain that those custodians have the authority to make decisions in an emergency. This is especially necessary when the custodial parent will be unavailable for an extended period, such as when traveling for work, undergoing a major medical procedure, or incarcerated.

Parents lose access to their child’s private information when their child turns 18 years old. On the child’s 18th birthday, they become a legal adult, regardless of their maturity, ability to provide for themselves, or even developmental delays due to a disability. Without certain estate planning documents, a parent will no longer be able to receive medical information from the child’s doctors or make decisions on the child’s behalf, even in an emergency situation.

Types of Powers of Attorney and Medical Releases for Your Adult Child

If you want to retain the ability to handle all your adult child’s affairs, you will actually need four different documents:

  1. Power of Attorney for Healthcare, sometimes called a Patient Advocate Designation, gives a parent or caregiver the power to make medical treatment decisions on their child’s behalf only when that child is unable to do so.
  2. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) release, gives doctors, hospitals, and pharmacies permission to discuss confidential medical information with the individuals listed on the release. This can be within the Power of Attorney for Healthcare.
  3. Financial Durable Power of Attorney allows parents to make financial decisions along with the child, and in the event the child is unable to make their own decisions.
  4. Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) waiver gives a parent, or other individual, access to educational report cards, disciplinary actions, test results, and attendance records.

For parents of special-needs or developmentally disabled adults, it is important to get all four documents executed as close to your child’s 18th birthday as possible to avoid gaps in their care, and protect access to their government benefits.

Why Young Adults Should Sign a Power of Attorney to Their Parents

Teenagers are often defined by their desire to live independently of their parents. When they move out and go off to college, they may not be eager to give their parents access to restricted information or control over what happens in their lives. But appointing a parent as their “agent” under the terms of a Power of Attorney can make the adult child’s life easier as well. Young adults can appoint a parent as agent which may allow that parent to:

  • Make transactions on their behalf at their hometown bank and access college funds
  • Schedule doctors’ appointments for during school breaks (so they don’t have to during finals)
  • Talk to pharmacies to transfer ongoing prescriptions to new branches
  • Pay rent and utilities on campus apartments while the student is studying abroad
  • Act as an emergency contact and make life-saving decisions after an accident or illness

Powers of Attorney can be exceptionally helpful to college students trying to balance the demands of school, jobs, and living on their own for the first time. However, some young adults are resistant to giving power back to their parents. In these cases, your estate planning attorney can draft powers of attorney that only come into effect if the young person is incapacitated. This allows their parents to step in in case of emergency, while allowing the young adult to maintain their independence in day-to-day life. They can also decline to sign a FERPA waiver if they want their educational records to remain private and don’t need their parents’ help paying tuition and managing enrollment or disciplinary issues.

How to Establish a Power of Attorney for Your Adult Child

Establishing a power of attorney for your adult child isn’t difficult. Your estate planning attorney can speak to your child about their preferences and prepare the necessary paperwork so that they can sign it when they’re home on a break, or just visiting to do their laundry. Parents will then have to sign acknowledgments of the power of attorney designations, and should provide copies to the child’s doctors, banks, educational institutions, and any other entity that they need to contact on their child’s behalf. It is also a good idea to keep a digital copy of the healthcare power of attorney and HIPAA release on your smartphone, in case of an emergency.

At NSSSB, we know how important it is for parents to be able to support their children, even after they turn 18. Our Ann Arbor estate planning attorneys are happy to meet with you and your adult children to discuss the need for estate planning and powers of attorney, review their options and preferences, and prepare all the necessary paperwork to keep you as part of their decision-making team. We can also help parents of developmentally disabled adults navigate the sometimes difficult process of executing and distributing powers of attorney, to make sure your child is provided for when they can’t care for themselves. Click here to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.